Colophon (publishing)

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A colophon, in publishing can refer to:

  • A brief description, usually located at the end of a book, describing production notes relevant to the edition
  • A printer's mark or logotype


Production notes

In most cases it is a description of the text typography, often titled A note about the type. This will identify the names of the primary typefaces used, provide a brief description of the type's history, and a brief statement about its most identifiable physical characteristics. A colophon may also identify the book's designer, software used, printing method if letterpress, the printing company, and the kind of ink, paper and its cotton content. Detailed colophons are a characteristic feature of limited edition and private press printing. Books publishers Alfred A. Knopf and O'Reilly Media are notable for their substantial colophons.

If a book has a colophon, it may appear either on the same page as the copyright information, or at the back of the volume. In early printed books the colophon follows the explicit, the final words of the text.

Printer's mark

A less frequent use of the term is for a printer's mark or logotype. This originated in Renaissance printing shops, where a title page would feature the printer's mark (colophon) near the bottom of the page, usually above the printer's name and city.

Web use

Some Web pages also have colophons, which frequently contain (X)HTML, CSS, or usability standards compliance information and links to Web site validation tests.


The term "colophon" derives from the Late Latin colophon, from the Greek κολοφων (meaning "summit", "top", or "finishing"). It should not be confused with Colophon, an ancient city in Asia Minor, after which "colophony", or rosin (ronnel) is named.

The term derives from a tablet inscription appended by a scribe to the end of an ancient Near East (e.g., Early/Middle/Late Babylonian, Assyrian, Canaanite) text such as a chapter, book, manuscript, or record. In the ancient Near East, scribes typically recorded information on clay tablets. The colophon usually contained facts relative to the text such as associated person(s) (e.g., the scribe, owner, or commissioner of the tablet), literary contents (e.g., a title, "catch" phrase, number of lines), and occasion or purpose of writing. Colophons and "catch phrases" (repeated phrases) helped the reader organize and identify various tablets, and keep related tablets together.

Positionally, colophons on ancient tablets are comparable to a signature line in our own times. Bibliographically, however, they more closely resemble the imprint page in a modern book.

Examples of colophons in ancient literature may be found in the compilation Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Colophons are also found in the Pentateuch, where an understanding of this ancient literary convention illuminates passages that are otherwise unclear or incoherent. Examples are Numbers 3:1, where a later (and incorrect) chapter division makes this verse a heading for the following chapter instead of interpreting it properly as a colophon or summary for the preceding two chapters, and Genesis 37:2a, a colophon that concludes the histories (toledoth) of Jacob. What follows Genesis 37:2a is the story of Joseph, not the histories or "generations" of Jacob; these were given in the text that preceded the colophon. Genesis 2:4a is so obviously a title to what precedes that James Moffatt, translating the Scripture but not understanding the principle of colophons, pulled the text out of place and put it as a title at the head of Genesis chapter 1. Another example of the fundamental misunderstanding of the Biblical text that results when scholars are ignorant of this ancient literary device is found in Jacob Milgrom's exhaustive commentary on Leviticus. When dealing with the colophon that is the final sentence of Leviticus, "These are the commandments which the Lord commanded Moses for the sons of Israel at Mount Sinai" (Leviticus 27:34, NASB), Milgrom writes, "The fact that this subscript follows and resembles the one in Lev 26 renders the entire chapter as a glaring appendix." A proper understanding of the verse, one that is consistent with ancient literary practice, sees this not as an awkward "subscript," but as the kind of ending to a major work, naming the author and place of composition, that was well known in the second millennium BC. Other examples of colophons in the Pentateuch are found in Leviticus (eight times), Numbers (four times), and Deuteronomy (twice). An extensive study of the eleven colophons found in the book of Genesis was done by Percy Wiseman. Wiseman's study of the Genesis colophons, sometimes described as the Wiseman hypothesis, has a detailed examination of the "catch phrases" mentioned above that were used in literature of the second millennium BC and earlier in tying together the various accounts in a series of tablets.


See also


  • Fiedl, Frederich, Nicholas Ott and Bernard Stein. Typography: An Encyclopedic Survey of Type Design and Techniques Through History. Black Dog & Leventhal: 1998. ISBN 1-57912-023-7.
  • Hamilton, Victor P. (1990). The Book of Genesis 1-17, pp. 5-6. New International Commentary on the Old Testament Series, Eerdmans.
  • Glaister, Geoffrey Ashall (1960 & 2nd edition 1979) "An Encyclopedia of the Book"<em>. ISBN 9781884718151

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